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Humble Goal

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"Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water."
Kurt Vonnegut, Rules for writing a short story

Our character—be it a hero, a villain, or somewhere in between—has a dream. An overarching Goal in Life that motivates him to get up in the morning, keep going when things get tough, keeps him from losing his mind when horrors come calling, and overall drives the plot forward.


However, it's nothing as ambitious as world domination, the creation of a utopia, or true love. It's something like a twinkie, a tuna sandwich, or a rug.

It's Mundane Luxury they get their wish, or a Tragic Dream if they don't.

Not to be confused with Mundane Wish; in a Mundane Wish, the character is offered anything he wants by a person of power, and chooses something simple. The Humble Goal is an aspiration internalized by the character, but he has to make it happen by himself.

A Super Trope of Call to Agriculture, where a powerful character only wants to be a farmer. Often the goal of an Action Survivor whose main goal is surviving so he can get back to his ordinary life. Compare Mundane Luxury, which is often the motivation behind this. Particularly common in stories where the characters or characters are stranded somewhere, and just want to get home.



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  • Many commercials, especially cereal commercials, feature characters and mascots whose sole goal in life is to get whatever product is being advertised. These characters are often willing to go to ridiculous lengths to get these products. Most of the time, it comes off cheesy, but when done right, as in this Coca-Cola ad, it works.
    • When done wrong, we get the Trix rabbit, who is a Villainy-Free Villain who just wants a bowl of Trix cereal. Even when he legitimately earns it, he still gets it taken away, because "Trix are for kids." The one time Trix offered a poll to see if he should get it, over eighty percent of the votes wanted the rabbit to finally have some Trix. And for once, he got it.

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Nana, Misato states that her purpose in life is being a blast groupie.
  • Hayate the Combat Butler: Hayate's life goal is to have a small apartment with the necessary amenities and nobody chasing him.
    • It is in fact so humble, that when he reveals this goal in grade school it drives his teacher to tears.
    • When he gave his report he didn't even list the last bit, just the small apartment (a 3LDK). After seeing his teacher's reaction the poor guy thought he aimed too high...
  • Daisuke/Davis in Digimon Adventure 02 just wants to run a ramen cart. He gets it.
  • In Pani Poni Dash!, Ichijo claims her ultimate desire is to be a domestic kind of woman, like her mother. This is probably the most ordinary anything she ever did in the show.
  • One chapter of Gintama plays it for laughs by making the protagonist get dragged across a lot of trouble (good vs evil, mobs, gangster...) because his fan broke and he was trying to replace it.
  • In Heaven's Lost Property, all Sakurai Tomoki really asks for is having a peaceful and normal life. Unfortunately for him, The Plot had different plans for him. Hilarious plans.
  • In Naruto, Shikamaru just wants to be an ordinary ninja who marries an average girl, having a son and a daughter, and eventually retiring to play Shogi and Go all day after his son is a ninja and his daughter is married. Unfortunately for him, the various circumstances he encounters force him to improve his skills, put himself at risk and challenge himself in order to survive. He does partially achieve his goals, being married to Temari and having a son Shikadai.
  • In Bakuman。, Ogawa and Kato- in contrast to most of the other assistants who are fleshed out as characters- are satisfied with being assistants and do not even attempt to get serialized.
  • In UQ Holder!, main character Touta's big dream is to ascend to the top of the space elevator. This perplexes most other characters... while it is a bit expensive, getting up there only requires purchasing a ticket.
  • The bandit girl from chapter 28 of Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid dreamed of becoming a maid. The Stinger at the end of the chapter reveals that she got her wish.
  • Fruits Basket character Ritsu's goal is to eat noodles with the same confidence that Ayame does.
  • In One Piece, for all their power and infamy three of the Four Emperors have startlingly humble goals:
    • Whitebeard assembled a massive fleet out of nothing more than a simple desire for a family.
    • Charlotte Linlin's dream of creating a country for herself is rooted in a wish to relive a happy birthday she had as a child.
    • Kaido's desire to start a massive world war is actually a glorified suicide attempt since he's so bored with life that he just wants to die but hasn't managed to figure out how due to his incredible durability.
  • Il Pallazzo, the would-be ruler of the world in Excel Saga, has scaled-down his ambitions to simply taking over a single city so that he can eventually broaden his horizons to the prefecture and then Japan and so on. He later says to someone on the phone that "just wishing to 'rule the world' is a childish fantasy for simplistic morons".
  • The titular protagonist of Shokugeki no Soma zigzags on this. On one hand, his goal in life as a chef is to carry on the family business, which is running a small restaurant in a middle-class district. On the other, before he does so, he wants to surpass his father, who is a world-famous chef, by becoming the top student in the prestigious Tootsuki Institute, an elite culinary academy notorious for a graduation rate of 1%.

  • In the Fables spinoff Fairest, during Lumi's (aka. the Snow Queen) battle with Hadeon the Destroyer, she admits that her current goal in life is to simply live her own life with a possible romance with a roguish fellow. When asked why she has no dreams bigger than her "selfish needs," she retorts that as a woman who spent years trying to fulfill great and ambitious things, she's rather cynical of lofty goals, and wonders if maybe small dreams are the best kind to have.
    • Boy Blue is a veteran of countless battles in a Hopeless War and his Roaring Rampage of Rescue through the homelands gets him described in-universe as the sort of guy Errol Flynn only pretended to be in his films. The only problem is, while being a survivor from countless massacres may be testament to his badassery, it leaves him suffering from terrible Survivor's Guilt from all the countless comrades he's watched die, and as such all he really wants to be is a functionary in some boring office job for the rest of his eternal life, with finally not having a romantic attachment blow up in his face being a nice bonus. When dying, he specifically requests that he not be buried among the soldiers, because he'd prefer to be remembered as a clerk and musician rather than a world-class badass. After meeting and giving reassurance the not-quite-dead Bigby in limbo, Blue says that it looks like his own personal heaven will, in fact, be something totally unremarkable that will fulfill his wish at long last.
  • Ultimate Wolverine: Jimmy made a detour and took many risks, just to have a brief look of his parents from afar one last time.

    Fan Fiction 
  • In the Code Geass fanfic Six Paths of Rebellion, besides wanting to free Japan, Tamaki admits he always dreamed of being a bureaucrat. The other Black Knights are noticeably surprised that a hothead like him had such a mundane dream job.
  • In the Dragon Age: Inquisition fanfic Walking in Circles, Solas's main goal is to restore his people's former glory and freedom which is definitely not a small wish, but for himself, all he wants is just a quiet, simple life with Evelyn.

    Film - Animated 
  • In The Book of Life, all Manolo wants is to live his life as a musician.
  • Scrat from the Ice Age movies wants nothing more than to enjoy his acorn in peace.
  • Spoofed in one of the adaptations of Pippi Longstocking. The pair of thieves who serve as the villains sing a song about how all they really want is an English bowler hat and a gold tooth respectively. But then they start talking about all the things they'll be enjoying after they get their items, such as yachts, cars, and having lunch with royalty.

    Film - Live Action 
  • Tallahassee's Twinkie obsession in Zombieland. Though it's revealed that he's obsessing with this in order to distract himself from the grief of his son dying.
  • In the original The Santa Clause movie, the reason Neil, Scott Calvin's ex-wife's new husband, says he stopped believing in Santa Claus at age 3: He wanted an Oscar Meyer Weenie Whistle in his stocking, and never got it. At the end, when Scott/Santa is flying overhead, Neil finally gets his gift.
  • In Fanboys, the main characters' goal is to see Star Wars: The Phantom Menace before it hits theaters. Only one of them does. And it's because he wouldn't live to see it in theaters. The rest of the group have to wait until it hits theaters. The movie ends with the line: "What if the movie sucks?"
  • In Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Captain Barbossa may have many goals, but what he really wants is to taste an apple again.
  • The Big Lebowski: "All The Dude wanted was his rug back."
  • Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992) tagline: "Women want him for his wit. The C.I.A. wants him for his body. All Nick wants is his molecules back."
  • Dude, Where's My Car?: All Jesse and Chester want is to find their car and get the birthday presents for their girlfriends inside.
  • Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. Of course, the way to White Castle is not as straightforward as that.
  • Big Trouble in Little China: Jack Burton has very little invested in the plot. His truck has been stolen, and he wants it back, but that's it. It's clear that he's risking life and limb mostly because he sees himself as a lantern-jawed hero who helps his friends and defeats the bad guys.
  • Ice Cold in Alex: The title of the WWII drama comes from Captain Anson's yearning for a cold beer. To get it, he and his party have survived an arduous journey across the North African desert after being separated from their unit and reach Alexandria alive. Of course, this is of the "focus on something tangible to get through the horror" variety, as they'd have to cross the desert either way.
  • The Terminal: Tom Hanks' character Victor Navorski just wants to get into New York to complete the autograph set of his father's favorite jazz musicians.
  • In Payback, Porter takes on the city's entire underworld to retrieve his $70,000 cut of stolen heist money. Though $70K is a large amount in general, it is considered minuscule given to the challenges he will face and compared to the amount of money usually at risk in the criminal underworld. Everyone keeps assuming that he wants the whole $140,000, but he constantly insists that he only wants his original share. Everyone reacts with surprise at the low sum, and one mobster complains that he has suits worth more than $70,000. In the director's cut, the head of the Outfit says she would not get out of bed for that much money.
  • In Carry On Admiral (1957) (no relation to the Carry On films) all the nameless man wanted was his clothes back.
  • Hudson Hawk: The title character really just wants to get an honest job and a cappuccino. Getting dragged into other people's plots keeps preventing either.
  • Similarly Lucas from French comedy Les Fugitifs and its remake Three Fugitives just got out of jail and wants to pawn his gold watch and become an honest locksmith. He succeeds by the middle of the movie, only to abandon his quiet life to save Jeanne/Meg.
  • Jackie Chan's character in the City Hunter movie is hungry.note  To the point of beating senseless the terrorist who stepped on a piece of bread. His last wish before the execution is to eat.note 
  • In Orson Welles's Mr. Arkadin, all Jakob Zouk wants—and all he was dreaming of in his years in prison—was a dish of goose liver with apples and onions. He gets killed before he can have it.
  • In The World's End, Gary King just wants to finish the Golden Mile pub crawl. It's taken to the point of psychotic obsession. Although it ends up taking on a darker note: he wants this because he's suicidal and it's the only thing he feels he has left.
  • In Extract, after all the legal fuss and bother caused by Step's workplace injury and the various manipulations of others trying to get money out of him through it, his boss Joel ends up just sitting him down and asking him what he really wants. It turns out all Step really wants is a promotion he feels he's deserved and been long overdue for, which Joel is happy to provide.
  • In Mister Roberts, all that the eponymous Navy officer wants, more than anything, is to get reassigned to a front-line ship (because the boredom is killing him). It is a whole lot more epic a trip to get this done than it should be (courtesy of his tyrannical captain) and, quite tragically, leads to his death, mere weeks before World War II truly ends.

  • Discworld:
    • In Night Watch, the revolutionaries want a slogan that encapsulates what they're fighting for. After asking each of their members what they want, the result is "Truth, Justice, Reasonably-Priced Love and A Hard Boiled Egg". This culminates in a tradition of leaving a hard-boiled egg on Sergeant Keel's grave.
    • Similarly, a Running Gag of the Discworld series is Rincewind the Wizard wanting to be left alone, preferably with a large plate of potatoes.
  • Poldarn from The Scavenger Trilogy wants to stay dry and not have people try to kill him. He doesn't generally achieve even this goal.
  • In Les Misérables, Little Cosette thinks that there would be nothing better in the world than to have a doll of her very own. Of course, Jean Valjean brings her the doll she's wanted — she at once clasps it and names it "Catherine."
  • The Bear's only goal in I Want My Hat Back is to get his hat back. Murdering the thief who stole it is secondary and only happened after he realises it was stolen, not lost.
  • All that the hobbits really want in The Lord of the Rings is to continue living in peace in the Shire. Unfortunately, the local Dark Lord has other plans. It is also the main reason why Frodo and Sam were able to resist The One Ring's influence for so long, as it had very little to actually tempt them with.
  • In the Ciaphas Cain story "Death or Glory", Cain spends the book hoping to get a mug of "tanna" (which nobody outside the ice world of Valhalla has heard of, let alone has) - and wanting to survive, but that's his usual raison d'etre. As luck would have it, after leading a massive army of survivors to safety and ending the Ork infestation by flanking them and killing their chief in single combat the first unit he meets up with is a Valhallan regiment...
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy all Arthur Dent wants is to sort out his lifestyle and have a nice Spot of Tea. Ford just wants to get drunk and dance with girls.
  • Edgedancer (side story of The Stormlight Archive): Lift just wants to sample all of Yeddaw's famous ten types of pancakes. Of course, being Lift, while she's there she decides to check in on Nale, the horrifyingly dangerous man who has been trying to kill her for months—so that she can steal his dinner. At the very end of the novel, when Lift discovers that Yeddaw actually only has nine types of pancakes (the tenth is metaphorically left out for their god), she threatens to call Nale back under the assumption that he'll kill them all for false advertising.

    Live Action TV 
  • In Kung Fu, the reason Caine is on the run from the Chinese authorities: Master Po had one ambition: to visit a specific city. It's a small ambition but he still admonishes himself for having it — as a Shaolin Master, he shouldn't have any ambitions. Sometime after Caine graduates from Monk School he encounters his old master in that city — he finally got his wish. At that moment the emperor's nephew comes by on his palanquin, shoving Master Po off the road and (eventually) killing him. Caine kills the emperor's nephew in a fit of rage, and then must flee China.
  • In Glee, Quinn is the head cheerleader and one of the more popular girls in school. Despite that, she's entirely realistic about (and comfortable with) the fact that Rachel will leave town to pursue stardom, while she has much more modest goals.
    I get Finn, you get heartbroken. And then Finn and I stay here and start a family. I'll become a successful real estate agent and Finn will take over Kurt's dad's tire shop.
  • Baldrick's life goals in Blackadder The Third revolve entirely around the acquisition of turnips. If he had a million pounds, he would buy a large turnip in the country and raise a family of little turnips.
  • The Mythbusters are testing the proposition that two interleaved phone books are inseparable by rational means. This culminates in chaining the books to a pair of tanks. Just before the mayhem starts, Jamie quips "I just wanted to make a phone call."
  • In Babylon 5, the Centauri are a planet full of scheming aristocrats, all of whom want power and the majority of whom are after the big chair. Except for Vir Cotto, who naturally, becomes Emperor.:
    Vir: All I ever wanted was a good job! A small title, nothing fancy... A wife I could love. Maybe even one who could love someone like me. I never wanted this
  • The Walking Dead: Ozzy, the leader of the Highwaymen, is very interested in watching the movie that's premiering at the Kingdom, so he agrees to help keep everyone safe during the fair. Sadly, he never gets the chance to watch the movie due to Alpha beheading him.
  • In the first season finale of Killing Eve, Eve finally confronts her foe, Villanelle.
    Eve: What do you want? Honestly. Don't be a dick.
    Villanelle: Normal stuff. A nice life. Cool flat. Fun job... Someone to watch movies with.

  • "Next to You, Next to Me" by Shenandoah. The narrator is uninterested in material possessions like mansions, caviar, gold and diamonds. He just wants his girlfriend to come for a ride in his pickup truck, where they will eat barbecue chicken and listen to their favourite radio stations.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • In Calvin and Hobbes, Hobbes's wish is to have a sandwich. He achieves it. This is contrasted with Calvin, whose more extravagant wish for "a trillion billion dollars, my own space shuttle, and a private continent'' goes unfulfilled.
    • In another strip, Calvin asks Hobbes what he wants right now more than anything else. Hobbes' answer: "A big sunny field to lie in." Calvin berates him for his lack of ambition and imagination, then looks at the blissfully snoozing tiger and says, "Actually, it's hard to argue with someone who looks so happy."

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the introductionary fiction for the second edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, a young man named Franz is combing through the monster-infested ruins of his home town. We eventually find out that he's looking for his father's shoemaker tools, in the hopes of earning a living as a cobbler to the refugees outside the town. It serves as an early hint of how character progression works in the game note  as well as showing that player characters in the setting often have to work very hard to achieve very modest goals.

  • Played for camp in Reefer Madness: The Musical:
    I've taken a life,
    Been stripped to my essence,
    And to think all I wanted was swing dancing lessons!
  • In Les Misérables, (in English) Cosette sings about her Castle on a Cloud, where she wants to go — and the best thing there is that her mother will be waiting for her. In French, the song is about a doll in the shop window that Cosette wants so badly.
  • Vladimir and Estragon are just Waiting for Godot to arrive. He doesn't.
  • Early in My Fair Lady, Eliza Doolittle sings the following;
    All I want is a room somewhere,
    Far away from the cold night air,
    With one enormous chair,
    Oh, wouldn't it be loverly.
    Lots of chocolate for me to eat,
    Lots of coal making lots of heat,
    Warm face, warm hands, warm feet,
    Oh, wouldn't it be loverly.

    Video Games 
  • The Sims 2:
    • It's possible to change a Sim's Lifetime Aspiration (instead of "Money", "Family", "Romance", etc.) to "Grilled Cheese". Characters with this aspiration seek to eat grilled cheese sandwiches and talk to people about grilled cheese sandwiches.
    • The Pleasure Aspiration was introduced in the Night Life expansion. It revolves around simple joys, such as wearing pajamas, drinking "juice", and jumping on the couch.
  • Played for Laughs in the Portal series. GLaDOS believes (or wants you to think that she believes) that test subjects can be motivated to complete extremely dangerous test chambers just by promising them that they'll get cakenote  if they succeed. In reality, of course, they're actually motivated by the fact that they're locked in, and completing the tests is the only apparent way out.
  • In Final Fantasy IX, Quina joins your party just to travel the world and sample new foods.
  • In Hakuouki, where the other Shinsengumi captains are occupied with grand ambitions and high ideals which prove unattainable, Harada Sanosuke admits in his route that his dream is to marry a woman he loves and live a peaceful life with her. This simple and humble dream is one of the reasons that Sanosuke has the most unequivocally happy ending in the game, where the others' endings are more bittersweet.
  • In Hatoful Boyfriend, what is the Spoiled Brat heir Sakuya Shirogane Le Bel's lofty lifelong dream? He wants to play and study music openly, and see how far he can go as a musician. If he pursues this goal he is disowned and cast from the family, as he knew would happen.
    • The player character's wishes at Tanabata: Take Over the World (twice, either openly or ruling from the shadows), win the Mad Love of a fallen angel, or... become an artist. Naturally, the last earns you points with Sakuya.
    • Subverted by Oko San. He just wants pudding... but he's extremely particular about his pudding, and anything not up to standard is grounds for a temper tantrum.
  • In Vindictus, even though it is obviously not true, everyone assumes that the rookie completes the quest to become a paladin for some tea. Which Brynn never even gives you.
  • Although perhaps not a lofty goal, Travis in No More Heroes initially only joins the ranking battles because Sylvia said she would bang him if he made it to the top. She also only seemed to have been manipulating him and he was simply stupid and horny enough to fall for it.
  • In Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, Koops joined your team to impress his girlfriend.
  • Makoto, in Street Fighter IV, wants simply to get money to open her dojo.

     Web Comic 
  • In Hero Oh Hero Burk's quests so far have consisted of finding a toilet and acquiring a giant pig for a mount (or to get the pig he found/defeated to grow giant again).

    Web Original 
  • Freeman's Mind postulates that all Gordon Freeman really wants during his haphazard trek through Black Mesa is to go home and get stoned. He really couldn't care less about the whole alien invasion and marine retaliation if they would only stop shooting and/or biting him.
  • As Texts From Last Night puts it:
    423: I know. I just don't want anything else. I have no other desire. Just a ham sandwich.
    1-423: I honestly don't know what to make of that.
    423: A ham sandwich would be nice.
  • For the entirety of Old Man Henderson's rampage, the only thing he really wanted was to have his lawn gnomes back. Sure, he leveled several churches and blew Hastur up for them, but he just wanted his lawn gnomes back.
    • Henderson's player just wanted the DM to stop railroading the game.
  • The only reason Scarecrow becomes one of Dr. Arkham's Co-Dragons in Season 2 of The Joker Blogs is because he wants his old job and office at Arkham Asylum back, the latter of which was given to Harleen. Although, in Episode 6, he thinks the whole plan has taken too bad a turn and is causing him more trouble than he's willing to put up with, so he decides Screw This, I'm Outta Here!.

     Western Animation  

  • The plot to many South Park episodes involves the kids wanting something relatively mundane - say, getting the latest gaming system, or returning a rented video - but getting waylaid by assorted weirdness. In the case of Cartman, the means to getting to that goal might get a little intense.
  • In Megas XLR, all Coop wants to do with his giant robot is to cruise around, pick up chicks, and have fun smashing stuff. One episode has him craving a Mega Slush, but an annoying evil robot keeps destroying the places that serve them.
  • In The Flintstones, Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble were only going out for some groceries; they weren't expecting to have to help the enigmatic superspy Madame Yes defeat the sinister Doctor Sinister.
  • In the Duck Dodgers episode "A Lame Duck Mind" when they go into Dodgers' mind, they discover his greatest desire is to own a bait shop. Specifically a failing bait shop. He does have a hot trophy wife randomly there, but he doesn't seem interested in her.
  • At the end of Avatar: The Last Airbender, retired General Iroh is at the head of the army that conquers Ba Sing Se, the largest and best-defended city in the world. He is, rather unexpectedly, reconquering it from his own people. What are his plans once the job is done? He's going to re-conquer his tea shop, and play pai sho every day.
  • In Ed, Edd n Eddy the boys get up to some impossibly elaborate schemes in the name of scamming the other kids of their money, so one wouldn't be faulted for assuming they're saving up for something big, like a college fund or opening a business. All they really wanna do with this money, however, is stock up on jawbreakers. Granted, these suckers are bigger than their own heads, but still, they're only twenty-five cents each.
  • The Simpsons: In "Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish", Mr. Burns blames Homer for the demise of his gubernatorial campaign and vows to make sure all his dreams go unfulfilled. As Homer worries about what will happen, Marge cheers him up by reminding him that his dreams are so simple and universal, that no one man, not even someone as powerful as Mr. Burns, can take them away.
  • Bugs Bunny from The Looney Tunes Show seems really excited about ordinary things like going to jail or attending a high school reunion. It turns out that Bugs has done so much amazing things all throughout his life (like going to space and becoming president of Mexico) that he wants to do ordinary things for once.

    Real Life 
  • One of "Bubble Boy"'s greatest wishes in life was to have a bottle of Coca-Cola. He never got it.
  • Harriet Richard Ames wanted a Bachelor's degree. A few weeks after she turned 100, and the day before her death, she received her diploma at her hospice bedside.


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